How to Capture stunning portraits

Capture stunning portraits

Exercise your creativity with your Canon to create simple, yet effective portraits without the need for big flashy setups

← Works best with EF 85mm f1.2 lens

Portraits, head and shoulder shots, selfies - no matter how you look at it, portrait photography is a massive part of our day-to-day life. How can you ensure that you're capturing stunning portraits with your Canon camera? The art of taking a portrait is a skill, and like all good skills, it's something you learn, so let's start with the basics.

Shoot stunning portraits on location
By using a remote trigger for your flash gun, create stunning location portraits that have an edge easily and seamlessly

The essential kit
For any photographer starting out, all you need are the three core materials: light, a camera, and your subject. Once you have acquired your model and your kit, it's time to look at the technicalities of both what and how you're going to photograph. People come in different shapes and sizes, so it's easy to get carried away in the l ow of taking images and forget what looks good and flattering to your subject. For instance, look at your choice of lens; if you are using a zoom lens then chances are it will start of at a wide-angle, somewhere in the region of 18mm and go to a narrower angle like 55mm or further. The point of the zoom system isn't just to get closer to a subject without moving, but also to alter the depth of the image and the perspective of the subject being shot. There are other benefits, such as the minimum aperture range, which will differ when you shift from one focal length to another. Typical lenses used in portraiture are a fixed 50mm which will have a wide aperture, starting at around f1.8 at the lowest, allowing a narrow depth of field, and a higher aperture around f16 giving a wider depth of field. The only negative of using a lens with such a wide aperture is that it can be prone to softer images, because your body movement, as well as the model's, will result in a shift in your depth of field, making them soft.  

Consider location and lighting
Shooting outdoors can yield great opportunities to mix natural and artificial light. Consider using a remote trigger to fire off-camera flash guns to achieve almost studio quality with minimal fuss


Lighting styles

1 Flat lighting
Use even lighting to flatten shadows on your model's face and even out skin tones.

2 Rembrandt lighting
Create a deliberate shadow for a dramatic look by lighting predominantly from one side. 

3 Ring flash
Designed to create hard edges and bleach out detail, ring flash is ideal for interesting portraits.

4 Rim lighting
Add rear lighting to create a rim of light around their body; great for adding drama and forcing focus

Another lens commonly used is an 85mm prime. This shares a similar wide aperture to the 50mm, but the 85mm has a narrower angle to keep the distortion of the image to a minimum, which also keeps background detail limited when your subject ills the frame. Another tip for flattering shots is to take your own body positioning into account. If you look up at your model, it can distort their appearance in an image, making them look like they have a fat neck and a small head. As a rule of thumb, looking too far down on a subject makes them look small and submissive, while looking up at makes them look big and dominant. Straight on with squared shoulders looks dominant and unflattering. This isn't to say that the only way to shoot a model is face-on, as it's definitely worth experimenting with various angles to see exactly what works best for your model. Once you know this rule, you can exploit it.

Simple but effective portraits
Beautiful portraits don't have to involve heavy make-up and over-styled hair. Sometimes minimal make-up, soft lighting and the right expression will be just as eye-catching

On location shots, using a reflector to bounce sunlight back at your model will replicate the sunlight around you, enhancing your subject. A flashgun will let out a direct blast of light that, if unadjusted, could bleach out your image. When aimed and powered correctly, a lash gun will give smooth, accurate lighting. With studio lighting, you must understand each light you use, how they interact and your choice of light modifier. When using a lash gun, bounce the flash light to minimise the risk of bleaching. Use a light meter to measure each light's incident meter reading (the point where the light hits the subject) to gauge the light strength. Review your shot, ensuring you can see the catch lights in the subject's eyes.

“As a rule of thumb, looking too far down on your subject makes them look small and submissive”

Meter your light
Use a light meter to measure how powerful your light is. These handy little devices are relatively expensive but are a must-have if you are using studio lighting or creative lighting outside


Lens and depth of field

1 Zoom lens
A zoom lens has the lowest aperture on the widest and the furthest telephoto option.

2 Prime lens
The prime lens has no zoom function, so the aperture is achievable constantly.

3 Depth of field
An aperture of f2.8 will soften foreground and background; f16 will give more overall focus.

Alter your lighting for big impact
In a studio environment, try turning off all your lights bar one. With the correct lighting modifier and power you will be able to create an atmospheric portrait quickly and easily. All your model will have to do is alter her pose  

Meter your light
Use a light meter to measure how powerful your light is. These handy little devices are relatively expensive but are a must-have if you are using studio lighting or creative lighting outside

Quick tip

If shooting at home, try using white sheets as a backdrop, or in this instance, white blinds. The natural light will bleach out the sheet when you expose for the model in front.


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